Friday, 23 November 2007

Foodie heaven

Wow, a night in. Seriously, I realised at work today that I haven't eaten at home once this week, not since Sunday night, and even then that was leftover Chinese takeaway. Dreadful. I've even been breakfasting at Pret every morning, as the boyfriend went and bought Fruit & Fibre rather than any kind of cereal I'd actually eat, and I didn't have a chance until this evening to go anywhere near a food shop.

So where have I been? Well, eating out. Constantly. I don't expect any sympathy for my "woe is me" attitude towards having been to two Michelin-starred restaurants this week, but it is a bit draining, especially when both times are with colleagues (nice as they are, they're not my friends). I don't get to do this all the time by any means, although it does get hectic on the work social front (and the social social front) in the run up to Christmas, which I guess we're now in.

Restaurant reviews are so absolutely subjective, it amazes me that anyone makes a living from them. One man's meat and all. But given the lack of anything else happening, I'd have nothing to blog about if I didn't at least comment on all the establishments which I've frequented this week. Apart from possibly the Starbucks in which I had a cranberry and orange muffin for dinner with Gail on Tuesday - that I will leave to your own research.


Monday was Mirabelle, the Mayfair showpiece of Marco Pierre White (and also a type of small yellow plum). This was a big corporate do, with all sorts of people who I didn't know and had absolutely nothing in common with. Up front: I like Mirabelle. I've been there before and it was lovely. This time I was disappointed, and I don't think it was entirely the restaurant's fault.

We had a set menu and at no time in the plans for the meal had any of us been asked (by the organisers, not Mirabelle) for likes, dislikes or dietary requirements, and as it turned out, the dishes on the menu were precisely those I'd have been least likely to choose for myself. The starter was a log of cold salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon, the kind of thing that I thought had gone out in the '80s apart from in Marks & Spencer's food departments. I love fish, I adore sushi, but chilly pink sludge? Not for me. And there was loads of it to wade through before a sensible amount could be politely left on the plate. The main course was roast saddle of lamb, which was well-executed, very pink and juicy, but it's my least favourite meat, and I could have done with a steak knife. It came with very good garlicky spinach, green beans (who can get excited about those?) and what was definitely pommes purées rather than mashed potato. You know, the kind of thing that's been through a blender rather than being mashed. I like my potato to have a bit more body. Pudding was a raspberry and mascarpone crème brûlée, which tasted lovely, but could have done with a little longer under the blowtorch as it was still more in the granulated sugar phase than the crunchy caramel one.

The main problem was, however, the company. I was sat between two people who I didn't know who don't work for my company, who immediately expressed disdain for my job, and who spent half the meal on their bloody CrackBerries. I had absolutely nothing in common with them and had exhausted my capacity for small talk even before the salmon sludge arrived. Had I been with more amusing fellow diners, I'm sure I'd have paid little attention to the food and pronounced it fab. Or had the food been great, I'd have been able to focus on that rather than my companions. Sadly, well before even pudding arrived, I wanted to saw my own head off (debate of the week: is that even possible?) and even drinking large quantities of wine didn't help. So not really Mirabelle's fault, but the food did nothing to mitigate the situation. My recommendation: go back and have what you want to eat from the menu, and take scintillating companions. Oh, but the champagne was cracking.


A very wet Wednesday took us eastside to Brick Lane and the wackiest of the week's eateries (I hate that word to the very depths of my soul), the Rootmaster. This is an old Routemaster bus, converted to host a vegan restaurant (kitchen downstairs, tables upstairs with very little headroom), and Ting had chosen this for her birthday celebrations. None of us are vegan, but it was remarkably good, if not a little weird. What is it with vegetarian restaurants and the kooky thing? They are without exception in strange locations, or unlicenced, or painted purple, or full of dogs (as in woof woof), or without the ability to take anything but cash (or possibly bartering for reiki treatments), or staffed by people odder than a field full of Glastonbury's finest on 'shrooms, or, in the case of some of them, all of the above. Rootmaster was probably the least weird of them, to be fair. But you have to wonder, is there really no call for a sensible, classy, straight-down-the-line vegetarian restaurant, which is like a normal restaurant, just with no meat? Or would that be way too subversive?

Anyway, the food... and bear in mind I am about as far from vegan as you can get, although by no means do I feel the need to eat meat daily. As a starter, I had bruschetta, full of flavour and apparently containing black cabbage, not that I could tell. Instead of ciabatta, it was served on doorstops of crusty wholemeal bread. I'm not sure why, as I'm not aware that ciabatta contains meaty goodness. I think the owner/waiter, who was certainly amusing enough on his own (think of a hippie vegan Russell Brand wannabe), had baked it himself which would explain it. It was excellent bread but I think better suited to bread and, um, non-dairy butter substitute than as a bruschetta base. The boyfriend pronounced his vegetable gyoza "the best ever", and he's something of a connoisseur of small Japanese vegetarian foodstuffs so that is a great compliment.

My main was a stir-fry of marinated teriyaki tofu, apparently made by some bloke near Spitalfields every Tuesday who then delivers it by bike. This was meant to demonstrate the minimal food miles involved, but I'm not convinced as I don't think there's a soy plantation within the M25. Anyway, it was excellent. I actually really like tofu - not as a meat substitute, as it just isn't, but as a foodstuff in its own right. Mmm, agedashi tofu... Again though, a slightly odd note was struck by it coming with brown rice rather than white, which would have been more correct for a Japanese dish. Is there some code of conduct by which vegans have to go for maximum healthfulness and fibre content at all times? Mind you, if so it was completely negated by the amount of (vegan) alcohol on offer. It was a great fun night, but we were tired and drunk and so bailed before pud.

Rhodes 24

I was not meant to be going out yesterday. We had a visitor from one of our foreign offices at work, and I was asked by a colleague to recommend somewhere to take them for a decent British meal, as (I'm told) when we are entertained in another country it tends to be with the relevant country's cuisine. Somewhere like Rules or Simpson's would have been far too heavy, so of course I recommended Rhodes 24, which is without question my favourite posh restaurant in London (not my favourite overall, that honour goes to the significantly cheaper Afghan Kitchen, but I'm sure Gary Rhodes won't mind, he seems like a fairly down-to-earth bloke). I wasn't actually invited to this dinner, but since someone else dropped out and we'd have lost some of the deposit, at the last minute I was asked if I'd like to come, and who am I to say no to that?

It was wonderful. Truly. As it has been every other time I've eaten there. The man is a genius. Far better than any of the Ramsay stable, in my opinion. Naturally, we started with a cocktail, for me a Red Passion, which involved lemon vodka with a variety of fruit liquers and juices, and my god, it was a revelation of mixology. Seriously, you could taste the fruits one by one. Heaven knows how they managed that.

Once we'd gasped sufficiently at the view (Rhodes 24 is on the 24th floor of Tower 42, aka the Natwest Tower, and the view of the glittering night-time Square Mile is only bettered by Vertigo 42, the champagne bar up on the 42nd floor) we processed to our table for the main event. After an amuse-bouche of a lovely, tiny cheese and salmon tart, I started with a crab raviolo, a huge pillow of crabmeat wrapped in the freshest, slipperiest pasta imaginable. I say "pillow" and this really was like the giant, feather-stuffed kind that you get in the most expensive hotels, swathed in tight, white, high thread-count Egyptian cotton and so thick that you end up with a crick in your neck if you try to sleep on more than one. Not the feeble little scatter cushions of normal ravioli. This thing was the size of a biggish hamster, although a hamster probably would have objected strongly to being sat on a bed of spinach and covered with coral-coloured fishy foam. Luscious.

My main, and in fact that of nearly all of our party, was steamed lemon sole with a lobster sauce, served with lobster champ. Now that's proper, robust mash, tasting of earthy potatoes and silky lobster. Not quite as spectacularly decadent as the lobster mash at Asia de Cuba, but very good indeed. The sole was delicate and juicy, just perfect, and served as three pretty, rolled-up, pure white fillets in a big white bowl. The kind of food that makes you feel clean to eat it, without all the vegan reliance on wholegrains.

Pudding... ah, pudding... We all nearly wept with the soul-wrenching horror of having to choose, but in the end I just had to have the "Ginger" (all Mr Rhodes' dishes are described on the menu as a single-word flavour before the more detailed prose). It was a ginger-drenched version of a rum baba, all moist sponge soaked in syrup, with poached pears encased in a crackly shell of burnt sugar, and oh my! ginger ice cream. Divine. This was paired with a good Tokaji (which always makes me think of the Philip Pullman novels where they always refer to this rather than "wine"). It never fails to surprise me how a sickly-sweet, viscous dessert wine can seem refined and almost dry when drunk alongside a sweet pudding, when a normal wine would become sour and jarring. I cannot understand how some people can drink something like coke with a good meal, it just becomes unbearably sweet in comparison. Stuffed, we nevertheless managed to force down some of the petit fours, including a marvellous white chocolate ball filled with strawberry ice cream. Now that's one kind of cold pink sludge I do like.

And now I'm happily sat on the sofa, about to start on the Terry's Chocolate Orange, my favourite chocolate, that my darling has just come home with for me. The diet most definitely starts next week.


stash haus said...

Loved reading your restaurant reviews. What's your favorite British holiday food?

Ginger Lucy said...

Ooh, as in holiday season? For savoury, roast goose and especially the fabulous roast potatoes that the goose fat creates. And then one or two of my mum's mince pies!

For parties, I like cheese and pineapple cubes on sticks. But then I never said I was classy!